June 29, 2011 -- Disputes over what female Muslim athletes can wear have arisen in soccer, swimming, track, gymnastics and, most recently, weightlifting, putting the athletes in the difficult situation of having to choose between their religion and their sport. But today, a compromise was reached in weightlifting.
The International Weightlifting Federation announced from Malaysia that it would modify the rules for athletic attire to allow athletes to wear a "one piece full body tight fitted 'unitard' under the compulsory weightlifting costume."
This decision comes after Muslim weightlifter Kulsoom Abdullah, from Atlanta, was on the brink of qualifying for the American Open tournament last year when she was eliminated for wearing her hijab. She was told it could be dangerous and potentially give her an unfair advantage as judges might not be able to tell if her arms were locked.
The hijab complies with her religious beliefs that she must be completely covered, with the excepton of her face, hands and feet. Abdullah, 35, would not compete without it.
In a statement today, Abdullah said, "This is a great victory. I am hopeful for more participation in sports for women…. I hope other sporting organizations will follow this example to allow greater inclusion and participation in their respective sport. One example is FIFA's disqualification of the Iranian women's team."
The Iranian women's soccer team was disqualified from a match against Jordan for next year's Olympics due to their headscarves. A FIFA official said that the headscarves violated their rules for dress and that, for safety reasons, women's necks cannot be covered.
When Abdullah was disqualified, she teamed up with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked both USA Weightlifting and the United States Olympic Committee to advocate for her on behalf of all women who wish to compete.
Each sport has a governing body; for weightlifting, the final decision had to come from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).
In the news release announcing the decision, the IWF wrote, "The newly approved competition costume modification promotes and enables a more inclusive sport environment and breaks down barriers to participation."
Dr. Tamas Ajan, IWF president and honorary member of the International Olympic Committee, said, "Weightlifting is an Olympic sport open for all athletes to participate without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age or national origin."
While this decision symbolizes a victory for Muslim women, other setbacks have garnered attention this week, most notably in California where 19-year-old Umme-Hani Kahn says she was fired from a Hollister store in San Mateo for wearing a head scarf.
After agreeing to wear headscarves in Hollister colors, Kahn says she was informed in February that her hijab violated the store's "look policy" and she would have to take it off in order to continue working.
She refused and made a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit against Abercrombie & Fitch this week. Hollister is owned by Abercrombie and this is not the first time the company has been sued for this issue.
Abercrombie denies any wrongdoing and says they have been compliant with the law regarding reasonable religious accommodation.
"The company's 'all-American look' policy is un-American, because it excludes people because of their race, national origin, gender or religion," said EEOC San Francisco regional attorney William Tamayo in a statement.
With one victory in athletics and one setback in retail, the fight for inclusiveness as represented by the Muslim hijab will continue with Kahn's case.